Sri Lankan poll machinery looks confident

Election votingAmid concerns among sections regarding alleged abuse of government machinery, discrimination by police, and control of the state media, Sri Lanka’s election commission appears confident about holding a free and fair election on January 8, said the former Chief Election Commissioner of India S.Y. Quraishi here on Sunday.

“The Election Commissioner exuded supreme confidence and told us that all arrangements were in place,” Mr. Quraishi, who is heading a team of Asian election monitors, said.

The police, he said, had “guaranteed” that the army would not have a role in conduct of the elections, even as apprehensions about possible threats from the military grow among sections, particularly in the island’s north.

The panel of monitors said the Opposition had complained that the military has set up 400 roadblocks to deter minority Tamils from voting freely in the north, but observers were yet to get credible evidence.

Over the next couple of days, Mr. Quraishi will travel to Jaffna in the Northern Province. Votes cast by northern Tamils could play a crucial factor in the election, which appears to have become a close contest between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena.

At least three delegations of international monitors, including the Association of Asian Election Authorities — a regional network of election management bodies — that Mr. Quraishi chairs, are in Sri Lanka ahead of the January 8 presidential polls.

The Forum of Election Management Bodies of South Asia and a Commonwealth delegation will also be monitoring the elections, in addition to domestic observers.

On reports of violence and alleged intimidation of voters, Mr. Quraishi said the details were very sketchy at the moment and that the monitors would have a clearer picture once they begin travelling across the country over the next few days. With the contest getting closer between the two main candidates, complaints of pre-election violence have escalated.

The private Campaign for Free and Fair Elections monitoring group said it had received over 1,000 complaints from the time election campaign began early December. (The Hindu)

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